Welcome to my Magic Hour. It’s 10.40am on a bright morning by the sea in Sunderland. From 10.30am to around 11.30am every morning, I feel a shift in energy – an opening up of possibilities, a creative surge. (Here I am, writing!) It’s the hour of the day that holds most potential for output. Yet, before I realized I had a Magic Hour, let alone what one was and how to make the most of it, I was running a rather different schedule:
Go to the post office/bank/buy a birthday card
Have a snack
Pop out for a coffee
Clean the house a bit (nothing too strenuous)
Go to the supermarket (the need for one item is enough to prompt a visit)
Email. Any email.
Online browsing – ‘research’
Phone a friend, etc. etc.
And after this, I tell myself loudly, I will write.
It’s 2.30pm, but I have half the mental focus than at 10.30am. I’ve wasted the Magic Hour on VSTs (Vitally Significant Tasks). The idea that shopping in the morning is a key to unlocking all those ideas for poems and tarot spreads and talks and books. One trip to Morrison’s for a pan scrubber, and everything will just flow (as if a pan scrubber were a fairy tale object that will transform into a fully finished book…). Get that parcel posted and it’s out of the way, sending a message to the Universe that the Great Work will be effortlessly downloaded. When skirting the edges of new creative territory, I believe that all I want is space to create. But faced with that space, I’ll fill it with anything, then find a way to validate anything. So I had to get a hold of myself, somehow. Hence the Magic Hour.
Bear with. I wonder if this fetishising of the mundane is partly due to the popularity of mindfulness. I get mindfulness, I really do: I commissioned the million-copy bestseller, The Little Book of Mindfulness, and I’ve tried to practise some of the techniques illustrated by its author, the psychotherapist Patrizia Collard. I’ve had the odd idea while cleaning the kitchen, mused on a problem on a mindful walk, and tried to stay in the moment. And that’s great when you genuinely need that kind of time– to keep the left brain busy with a task so the right brain can play around a bit. (Rituals do that for us – in tarot, shuffling the cards is part of the preparation to enter an altered, right-brain state. Laying them in a spread keeps our hands busy.) A physical task lets other doorways open. But what if preparation – rituals, research, or ways of clearing the way, becomes the problem? If you’re already doing the creative work, and you’re in that magical slipstream of creative output, the mindful stroll in the garden might be just the ticket, because you’re probably in a phase of processing what has already begun. And these half-sensed ideas need space to surface. But if you’re trying to get something new off the ground – whether a business idea or other creative venture – the mindfulness approach may just delay the inevitable: giving an idea tangible form. To feel the fear and begin at zero. To look at that blank screen, or a scribble of strange notes you made on the bus, and start to create a framework – a pathway for real output. When I’m skirting the edges of new creative territory, mindfulness, I’ve realised, is not the answer.
Reading an article in The Guardian, I was struck by a particular quotation (there I go – reading the Guardian online in bed…) A journalist with deadline anxiety was trying out life coaches to help her get her novel written. She consults a corporate guru at his apartment in Mayfair, and asks for help to stop procrastinating and get on with it. (If you’re outside the UK, Mayfair is a rather exclusive area of London). She told Mr Mayfair she spent her ‘free’ time researching. Which involved a lot of TV and reading lots of other writers’ novels. In response, he said,
‘It’s time to start being the producer. Not the consumer.’
Hmm. I reflect that I do watch a lot of films. And that my distractions are about being that consumer. Snacks, coffee shop, shopping. Then there’s inviting others to be our distractions – the phoning a friend, responding to emails in the hope, perhaps subconsciously, that these exchanges will abate the hesitancy, the fear of beginning. I’m not sure how cleaning door handles and doing laundry fits in; but it’s certainly displacement activity. And there’s clearly a pattern here: Consume, Distract, Avoid. The procrastinators’ Eat, Pray, Love.
Distractions often fulfil a need to be doing something towards your project. Whether this is getting the shopping out of the way so you don’t have to leave the house again, ergo Then I will write, to watching a film that’s on the same theme as that new project, it’s just a way of circling, feeling you’re getting closer to your heart’s desire without having to begin. A bird scouting the territory but never landing. I can say this because although I’ve had seventeen bookspublished, the procrastination issue never entirely goes away.
So, I looked at the energy levels I experience over the course of one day. I naturally want to do stuff in the mornings. Worst time: 2.30–4.30pm. Best times: 10.30–11.30. Second best times: 4.30–7pm. So, I’m tackling the big stuff – new ideas, new work – in the Magic Hour of the morning. Do humdrum stuff in the afternoon, like paperwork and emails, then return to my project after 4.30pm. I might have a nap in the afternoon (thank you, menopause). It’s really worth noting which parts of the day light you up and which don’t, because when you have the luxury of working with your own flow, you stop giving away precious time to tasks that really don’t deserve one hundred percent focus. Make sense? (If you’re interested learning more about planning your work-at-home days, see My Creativity Journal, Cico Books, 2018.)
Reflecting on my ‘energy clock’, I also realised that I schedule tarot clients in the morning whenever possible and very rarely read after 7pm. I know it seems obvious, but looking at my tarot diary confirmed I’d got my Magic Hour right.
Back to the Mayfair guy. He makes our journalist accountable. She has to check in with him daily (texts, etc.) to say what’s she’s done, what she’s doing. And this is her key: having someone to answer to. That worked for her, and she’s nearly finished the book she’d been trying to write (but not writing) for five years. She did find the time – perhaps she switched her consumer time to producer time. Turned off the TV and became involved in her own story.
Since embracing my Magic Hour, new projects are awakening, taking shape.